WASHINGTON, April 11, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Britain's "The Observer" reported on April 9 that a soon-to-be-released report by the British government has concluded that the July 2005 bombings in London were carried out by four men who had no links to Al-Qaeda.
But author Peter Bergen contends that one of the men alleged to have been involved in the attacks, Mohammed Siddique Khan, likely made contact with the "outer fringes" of Al-Qaeda during one of his trips to Pakistan.
"If you look at the [videotaped] suicide will of Mohammed Khan, who was after all a Pakistani, second-generation, it was shot by Al-Sahab, which means the clouds in Arabic," Bergen said. "Now that's Al-Qaeda's video-production arm. Al-Qaeda's video-production arm doesn't exist in Leeds [England], where Mohammed Khan is from."
Bergen links the London attack with the first anniversary of the expiration of a "truce" offered by bin Laden in April 2004. The Al-Qaeda leader offered European countries the chance to withdraw from the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and stop "attacking Muslims." The offer expired on July 15, 2004.'Broad Strategic Guidance'
Bergen, who produced the first televised interview with bin Laden in 1997, challenges the popular impression that Al-Qaeda has ceased to function as a formal organization.
"Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri are out there and actually influencing what is happening," he said. "Of course, they're not in command and control of their organization. Bin Laden hasn't been picking up a sat [satellite] phone or cell phone to order people to do things for a very long time. But through the medium of videotapes and audiotapes bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri provide broad strategic guidance to the network, and they also give specific instructions."
Since September 11, 2001, 35 video- and audiotapes from bin Laden and al-Zawahri have surfaced. According to Bergen, these tapes do more than just attempt to foment righteous anger toward the infidels. They provide specific suggestions for targets. For example, in late 2004, bin Laden called for attacks on Saudi oil facilities.
"I think there is some relationship between that call and the attack we just saw on the Saudi oil facility, the very major oil facility," Bergen says. "And we've seen a lot of attacks on oil workers in Saudi [Arabia], and bin Laden has also called for attacks on Iraqi oil facilities.
To buttress his argument, Bergen cites an interview on Al-Jazeera television in February 2006 with former senior Taliban military commander Mullah Dadullah. Dadullah said that bin Laden and al-Zawahri "are in operational control" and are "giving us orders."
Dadullah and Bergen are not the only people convinced that bin Laden continues to pick targets for his terrorist network around the world. According to "The Daily Mail" on 9 April, following the release of the British government report, the Conservative Party is going to demand further investigation into the London bombings. The paper quoted Conservative homeland-security spokesman Patrick Mercer as saying that the lack of a link with Al-Qaeda was difficult to believe.
Bergen, for his part, suggests that pinpointing ultimate culpability for any particular bombing may not always be possible or necessarily what's most important. "In the end does it really matter?" he asks. "When a bomb goes off and it kills your mom, does it matter if it was Al-Qaeda itself or Al-Qaeda inspired?"
Bergen says he is particularly worried about the possibility of a rocket-propelled-grenade attack bringing down a passenger jet. That, he predicts, would have a devastating impact on the aviation and tourism businesses.